Fire from Heaven

Fire from Heaven - Mary Renault My introduction to Mary Renault was The King Must Die, the first of two novels about Theseus--it was actually assigned reading in high school. What impressed me so much there was how she took a figure out of myth and grounded him historically. After that I quickly gobbled up all of Renault's works of historical fiction set in Ancient Greece. The two novels about Theseus and the trilogy centered on Alexander the Great are undoubtedly her most famous of those eight novels. The first book of that trilogy Fire from Heaven, is about the young Alexander of Macedon before his famous conquests, ending with his inheriting the Kingdom of Macedon. I was fascinated by the portrait drawn of him and his family--and his teacher--Aristotle. It also draws vivid portraits of his "Companions" who helped him conquer much of the civilized world surrounding the Mediterranean and divide it between them after his death. Hephaistion is his particular close friend and lover. That was probably a shock to me as a sheltered young teen, pre-AIDS when homosexuality just wasn't very visible. What was amazing was the picture of a society where this was not just tolerated but completely accepted, and this novel (and her novel The Last of the Wine also featuring a homosexual relationship) made an indelible impression on me--more than any kind of lecture on tolerance. The second book, The Persian Boy, is Alexander seen through the eyes of another of his lovers, Bagoas, covers the period of this conquest, and is every bit as remarkable. I thought Funeral Games a bit of a disappointment after those first two, but it missed a lot with Alexander's absence, dealing with the aftermath of his death. And this was one of those books that cemented my love of historical fiction and fascination with Ancient Greece. If I have any criticism, it's that Renault's Alexander is too much the paragon. You get the feeling Renault was more than in love with her Alexander. But it's certainly not a criticism that occurred to me while I was reading this--given how fully I was under Renault's spell. Nor am I the only one entranced by these books--you can definitely see the influence of the Alexander trilogy on such books as Jo Graham's Stealing Fire about the wake of Alexander's death and Madeline Miller's Song of Achilles.